HELENA — A Bozeman attorney is urging the state Republican Party to proceed with a federal lawsuit to close GOP primary elections to nonparty members, but the party’s state chairman said no decision has been made yet.
Matthew Monforton, who also is a legislative candidate, sponsored a resolution that was revised and strongly approved at the state Republican Party platform convention last weekend.
“We voted overwhelmingly for the closed primary last weekend,” Monforton said.
He and other conservative Republicans contended that a number of Democrats crossed over to vote for moderate Republicans in the June 3 GOP primary and influenced the outcomes.
Yet by Monday, Monforton said, state Republican Chairman Will Deschamps of Missoula was saying the party was going to have to wait for the 2015 Legislature.
In response, Deschamps said Thursday, “We haven’t made any decisions yet. The final decision will be up to the executive board.”
In Billings, the party’s Resolutions Committee rewrote Monforton’s resolution and omitted the call for a lawsuit. The convention approved the revised version.
“I’m going to keep demanding the party leadership honor the call of the convention and proceed with seeking closed primaries to protect the integrity of our votes,” Monforton said.
He wants the party to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to limit participation in Republican primaries to registered Republicans only and follow the Idaho Republican Party’s lead.
A federal court in Idaho ruled in favor of Idaho Republican Party’s favor in 2011.
The Idaho Legislature passed a law giving each party the option of whether to close its primary or keep it open to any voter. Idaho Republicans closed their primary elections, while Democrats kept theirs open
Deschamps said his “druthers” are to take it to the Legislature first.
“This is a big decision, and I think as many people as possible should be involved in it,” Deschamps said.
He also said that a lawsuit like Monforton is advocating “isn’t going to be cheap.”
The state chairman added that he could be overruled by the executive board.
Monforton sees no need to take the closed primary idea to the Legislature, where previous closed primary attempts have failed.
Even if one passes, the attorney said he’s certain Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock will veto it.
“Closed primaries are an existential threat to liberal Republicans, because they shut off the supply of Democratic crossover votes they often count on to prevail in county elections,” Monforton said.
“Conversely, open primaries are proving to be an existential threat to conservatives, because Democrats and liberal Republicans have demonstrated that in many primary elections, Democratic voters can provide the margin of victory that liberal (Republican) candidates need.”
Deschamps said the issue of whether to close Montana Republican primaries has generated a lot of interest.
“That’s a good thing,” he said.